Kennedy: UT College of Medicine Chattanooga trains doctors to show compassion, kindness

University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga student Robert Goodrich shows the results of his compassionate care survey.

The University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga wants all its docs-in-training to have good hearts. Not just in the cardiovascular sense, but in the realm of human compassion, too.

Robert "Bobby" Goodrich, 32, a fourth-year medical student here, is a good example. Goodrich says he decided he wanted to be a pediatric doctor after his unborn daughter was diagnosed with a serious health condition.

photo University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga student Robert Goodrich shows the results of his compassionate care survey.

Goodrich said prior to her birth, his daughter was found to have a hernia in her diaphragm, a condition that caused some of her internal organs to shift. He said that comforting words from a doctor helped calm the anxiety he and his wife were feeling before their daughter was born.

The impression that kind doctor made was strong and enduring.

Now, more than six years later, Goodrich's daughter is doing well, he says, while he is dedicating himself to learning compassionate care and paying it forward.

Goodrich says he didn't take a direct path to medical school. After attending Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, the Nashville native spent more than a year pursuing a career as a neuroscience researcher before deciding to go back to school to become a doctor.

Now, Goodrich is on a quest to find a destination to do his medical residency. "I've applied to a bunch of programs," says Goodrich, who is a few years older than most of his med-school cohorts.

photo Mark Kennedy

In addition to his studies, Goodrich is a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, which is supported by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. The Tennessee chapter, which includes only a small percentage of the UT medical students, is based in Chattanooga. The Gold Foundation's website says it "champions the human connection in health care." The chapter was begun here by Dr. Mukta Panda, a professor at the U.T. College of Medicine Chattanooga.

This week is the honor society's "Solidarity Week for Compassionate Patient Care," a time reserved to highlight compassionate care in more than 70 teaching institutions.

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As a personal project for the honor society, Goodrich recently distributed a survey asking Tennesseans to share stories about doctors and other medical professionals who showed them kindnesses.

One patient who responded to the survey remembers a doctor squeezing her hand in the intensive care unit. Another patient remembers a nurse who went out of her way to make sure appointment times were correct.

Like all of his classmates at the College of Medicine, Goodrich has been coached in the soft skills physicians need to translate their clinical training into the best possible outcomes for their patients. One of the goals of compassionate care, he says, is "talking to patients as equals and friends."

In his specialty, pediatric neurology, Goodrich will treat kids with seizures and cerebral palsy, among other conditions. He will have daily opportunities to comfort his patients and their families.

"The great stories in health care are about patient/physician relationships," Dr. Panda says.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.